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<I>Gimme Shelter</i>: There’s No Place Like Someone Else’s Home

The commercials for this movie may lead you to believe that erstwhile High School Musical starlet Vanessa Hudgens has taken the bold step to becoming an adult actress, and she's admittedly trying, but her idea of a transformative performance is heavily reliant on her choppy haircut, makeup job and facial piercings. Otherwise, she seems to think that acting involves some sort of New York accent that fluctuates in frequency throughout the movie and screaming most of her lines. Perhaps that's what happens when you are used to belting your lines to get attention when Zac Efron is around. Instead of a major theatrical release, this mediocre flick with poor structure would have fit in far better as a Lifetime or Hallmark Channel movie of the week.

Based on a true story, Hudgens stars as Agnes or "Apple" (because she cloyingly has a letter from her estranged father where he calls her the apple of his eye… and we know this because at some point during this film we have to hear her recite the entire letter while the actual letter is shown on screen. Like we don't know how to read for ourselves?), a young girl who opts to leave her abusive drug-addicted mother (Rosario Dawson) in New York to travel to New Jersey to meet the father that she never knew. But her plan is flawed from the beginning as she doesn't have enough money to pay for the cab she calls and gets thrown out on a highway, instead of just taking a bus from the outset since that's what she ends up doing anyway. She gets to her father's doorstep and starts to break and enter since he's clearly not home, and then after the police are called, her dad (Brendan Fraser) shows up and recognizes her. Dad's wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) is not thrilled to have this unexpected teen with anger issues on her doorstep, and tries to ditch her at a doctor's office when Apple suspects that she's pregnant.

After Apple refuses to have an abortion and get a fresh start as her dad and Joanna suggest, she hits the streets again, steals a car (even though she doesn't know how to drive) and ends up in the hospital, where she meets Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones), the kindly chaplain who wants to help her start a better life for her and her baby. Of course, her meth-addicted mom shows up and is sort of thrilled that her teen daughter is knocked up because this means that she can get more state funding for drugs, with another mouth to feed. There's a lot of back and forth, and some over-the-top scenes where Rosario Dawson just totally commits to the craziness, but eventually Frank helps Apple get into a shelter that caters to pregnant teens. She has to adjust to this life, try and legally fight to stay away from her mother and build a relationship with her father who suddenly decides he'd like to be a parent. It's not an unfamiliar tale, and this movie certainly doesn't bring anything new to the table. In fact, the last half of this true story plays out like an infomercial for the shelter. From the time James Earl Jones hits the screen and starts talking about God, to the very end where we see footage of the actual women who are portrayed in the movie, it's all extremely preachy. I half expected someone to come around with a collection basket for donations when the lights came up in the theater.

The movie feels completely disjointed, and perhaps that's on purpose, but there seem to be large gaps that might have actually developed deeper relationships between the characters and made me care at all about anyone in this movie. As I mentioned, Dawson really does fully commit, but by comparison everyone else fails. Fraser, who fits better with goofy comedies or action films, could have been played by an actual piece of plywood. He shows zero emotions and just stands around uncomfortably a lot in suits. And Hudgens, for whom we are supposed to be rooting, does try and break out of the peppy mold she's frequently boxed into but lacks the chops to actually make this role resonate. It's almost hard not to giggle at some parts when she's clearly trying so hard.

Once Apple arrives at the shelter she meets a lot of largely forgettable and interchangeable characters, but the one that stood out the most to me was Carmel, and not because her role was so riveting, but because she was played by Dascha Polan who is currently playing a pregnant inmate on Orange Is the New Black. I was happy to spot her, but then the entire rest of the film I kept thinking about how this story of Apple's seems like something you'd see in a flashback on OITNB, but done more effectively and interestingly in 15-minute chunks than it was in this full-length movie. So instead of heading to the theaters to see this forgettable nonsense, I'd recommend you pay for a Netflix account (if you don't have one already) and watch OITNB because you are way more likely to have a satisfactory viewing experience. Plus, this movie will surely wind up on Netflix at some point and you can watch it then if you are a die-hard Hudgens completest -- assuming there is such a thing.

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